AMC Network Entertainment LLC

This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

Cirque du Freak Review – Is a Bearded Salma Hayek Scary? Well, That Depends…

Cirque du Freak Review – Is a Bearded Salma Hayek Scary? Well, That Depends…” width=”560″/>

U.K. novelist Darren Shan’s hugely popular, twelve-book series about an ordinary adolescent who discovers his extraordinary destiny at a macabre traveling show makes its first (and probably last) screen appearance in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, a colossal bore of a teen fantasy movie.

Polite, blandly attractive Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) is that kid everyone knew in high school: Smart but not too smart, nice without being a wimp, pleasant company in the cafeteria and totally forgettable. He’s the kid whose yearbook photo scarcely registers a year after graduation. His best friend, Steve (Josh Hutcherson), is a whole different story: Petty troublemaker par excellence, “future underachiever of America” is just about tattooed on his forehead. Darren’s straight-arrow parents naturally think Steve’s a bad influence and ground Darren after he and Steve get caught in an act of minor vandalism. But when the Cirque du Freak comes to town for a one-night-only engagement, Darren has to choose: Stay in his room, or sneak out and join Steve for a night of forbidden delights.

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the conventions
of teen fiction — especially teen fiction awash in vampires,
werewolves, bearded ladies, lizard boys, cogitating spiders and
sorcerers — that Darren’s small act of defiance has far-reaching
consequences. A day after their trip to the Cirque, Steve lies dying
and Darren has made a Faustian bargain with the Cirque‘s
resident vampire, centuries-old Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly): If
Crepsley will cure Steve, Darren will become his assistant, even though
that means abandoning his family, faking his own death and becoming
“half vampire” (they can go out during the day, which assists with the
assisting). Worse still, Darren has picked an especially unpropitious
time to join the world of the undead: There’s a war brewing between
civilized vampires like Crepsley, who keep their bloodlust under
control and live alongside humans, and the Vampaneze, who revel in
terror, torture and slaughter. Inevitably Steve and Darren wind on
opposite sides of the simmering conflict.

If Cirque du Freak
has one-tenth the devilish style of its opening credits, an animated
series of spidery silhouettes that evoke an elegantly sinister world of
gnarled trees, glowing eyes, skittering creepy-crawlies and great
gaping mouths, it would be a thoroughly watchable exercise in spooky,
not-too-graphic fantasy. But no such luck. Director Paul Weitz is
partly to blame; in movies like About a Boy he demonstrated a
carefully nuanced understanding of character that’s nowhere in evidence
here. But the real problem is that the screenplay seems to have been
adapted by committee — there’s none of the quirky specificity that
makes, say, the Harry Potter movies so engaging — and the
casting is ghastly. John C. Reilly is a fine actor who bears an
unfortunate resemblance to Mr. Potato Head, and vampires — good and
bad alike — are all about sex appeal, of which Mr. Potato Head has
none. Salma Hayek, who sports a beard that can grow and retract at will, is wasted in what amounts to a bit part. Same goes for Willem Dafoe and Jane Krakowski, while the affable Massoglia is too insipid to ground
a coming-of-age story with such dark underpinnings, no matter how
muted. He is, however, perfectly suited to Disney-quality life lessons
like, “It’s not about what you are; it’s about who you are,” a bit of
pre-packaged wisdom so trite, it’s repeated twice.

For more movie reviews, check out AMC Filmcritic.

Read More